A very demeaning and an insulting statement about the integrity of the officer corps of the Indian Army has been made in writing to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) by the Army Headquarters. Obviously, this must have been with the approval of the then Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat, now the Chief of Defence Chief. He has been the exponent of withdrawal of Tax Exemption to the disabled categories mentioned. But then the question is how can the army run with the leadership whose integrity is doubtful?
The CDS’ thinking on Pensions and Disability Pensions to Officers
Deposing before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence the CDS says “Those who are drawing exceptionally high pensions, can they not pay a little amount of income tax?” He is said to have stated further ‘there is a “wide variation” in the disability pensions of Army jawans and officers and that was “creating heartburn…’ and suggested by stating ‘one of the ways to narrowing this gap is this. The CDS has expressed a view that both the pension and disability pension of officers are exceptionally higher than what it ought to have been and hence the suggestion to lower them by withdrawing the tax concessions. Has any other Chief be it those of the other two Services, Police Forces, CAPF or the Cabinet Secretary, the head of the civil Services ever spoken in these lines?
The question is, on which scale does one measure and classify the rate of pension as ‘exceptionally high’, high or low? Pensions and disability pensions are paid based on Government orders which is linked to the last pay drawn by the individual be it officers or those of the lower ranks. Has the General studied the pension of civil services personnel of various ranks and compared them with those of Army personnel of equivalent ranks? What about the pay of serving personnel? Should that not be reviewed also? If the Pension of Army personnel is ‘exceptionally high’ how will he classify those of Civil Services?
Pension and income-tax are two independent issues. How can these two issues be linked? Can the gap that exists between the disability pension of jawans and Army officers as alleged be narrowed down by paying “little amount of income tax”? Can the income tax collected from disabled officers be distributed amongst jawans to narrow the gap? Or is he one of those who believes that rather than increasing the disability pension of jawans, making the disabled personnel pay income-tax and thus reducing the income of disabled personnel will satisfy the jawans to solve the problem? The jawans of the Indian Army are definitely not negative as assumed by him. Such remarks by the senior most officer of the Armed Forces without the backing of relevant data and due analysis speaks very poorly of the intellectual capabilities of the Defence Services as a whole.
Ethos of the Indian Army
In most of the fighting units of the Indian Army, once a soldier is posted to a unit after his recruit training, he remains with it throughout his career excepting in some rare cases. The unit therefore becomes his second home and every soldier posted to it a member of the family. He does anything that is told to him irrespective of whether it is in his charter of duties or not as he assumes that it is a family matter. It is because of this attitude that has been developed in a soldier that the Army attains the capability to undertake any job entrusted to it within the time frame with precision and discipline. On the same basis it is because of the ‘soldier-unit integration’ that he is prepared to sacrifice his life and limb to maintain the honour and reputation of the unit. When a soldier says he fights for the good name of the unit, he reflects that sentiment. It is because of this motivation in a soldier developed over a period of time that the Indian Army has emerged victorious in every operation that it has undertaken including in Kargil which any military expert would agree was one of the most difficult operation ever fought by any army in the world. To a soldier the standing of the unit is as important as the reputation of his family.
Compared to a soldier’s Sacrifice is tax concession to disabled too much of a burden on the Government?
Having been brought up in such an environment, when a soldier dies or is wounded and disabled in war, the loss becomes a personal one to every soldier in the unit. He wants the deceased soldier’s family and the disabled soldier to at least live a comfortable life during the balance of their life. The income-tax relief provided to the disabled, to an extent provides him with some additional money to have some comforts, treat his young children and grandchildren, buy some small gifts etc. The disabled soldier has lost something while sacrificing himself for the country which he can never get back in his lifetime. Do we want to deprive him of these petty happiness? Is it too much of a burden on the Government?
It is the responsibility of the Government as much as that of Army’s senior officers to maintain and further build up on the ethos that the Army has developed over the years due to the efforts of thousands of officers and JCOs who had been a part of the outfit sometime or the other. The ‘use and throw’ attitude towards soldiers will render the Army incapable of winning wars irrespective of the weapons and equipment it holds and the training that it goes through. When it is said that it is the man behind the weapon which is more important than the weapon, this is what it implies.
IT MAY NOT BE A GOOD IDEA TO MEDDLE WITH THE ETHOS OF THE INDIAN ARMY FOR PETTY (post retirement) GAINS. PLEASE DO PONDER OVER.
( Ashis Dass is a retired colonel of the Indian army who has worked on resettlement of former soldiers)